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Egypt Practicalities

My husband and I were inspired by both Rick Steves and Bettany Hughes to travel to Egypt. It had been a bucket list item, and last April we decided to book a trip due to the fact that Egypt had been open for travel for quite some time when other countries weren’t. We booked our trip with Egypt and Beyond Travel. Tarek was so helpful with every detail. We ended up with a completely private tour including a private guide and driver throughout our trip. This helped us feel better about our covid risk and was one of the reasons why we didn’t cancel our trip when Omicron showed up. Please see my other post “Egypt & Covid-19” for covid related tips.

Immigration & Airports: I would highly recommend you book with a company that will have someone meet you at the airport to help you through immigration. We had Nelly (the wonderful lady Rick sits next to at the restaurant in his Egypt episode) to meet us and assist us with the immigration officer. There seemed to be an issue at immigration, but I have no idea what it was, and she just took care of it. After the long trans-Atlantic flight with little to no sleep, I would not have wanted to have to figure out how to get through immigration on our own. She helped us every time we arrived or departed in Cairo. At the airport at Abu Simbel and Aswan, the company arranged other people to help us. This was so convenient! I didn’t have to figure out the logistics of where to go or what to do. It was just: follow this person and they will take care of you. We visited with a couple from Michigan while waiting at one of the airports. The man said that he has traveled the world independently, but for Egypt they hired a tour company with guides and drivers like we did. He commented on how Egypt is just different and more confusing. I completely agree. I can’t imagine the headache I would have had trying to figure out where to go and how to get there. Everything would have taken us at least twice as much time!

Smoking & Smog: If you have sensitive lungs like I do, be prepared for some issues with the smog in Cairo and the cigarette smoking inside buildings. After the third day in Cairo, my lungs burned and I was coughing up a little phlegm at the end of the day. Smoking is allowed inside buildings, so that bothered my asthma also. This was something that I hadn’t realized before traveling there, so I am mentioning it in case anyone else is in the same situation.

Shoes: I ended up taking a pair of Allbirds Tree Runners, Altra trail running shoes with good grippy soles, and Teva sandals. My husband wore Nike sneakers with no real grip on the soles. I only wore the Allbirds for walking around the cities or when on the cruise ship. I wore the trail running shoes for visiting any site where there was going to be sand. I was glad I had grippy soles on my shoes, as I am not as sure-footed as my husband. He got along fine with the smoother-soled tennis shoes. Neither one of us had any issue with sand getting in our shoes. I would say that the Allbirds soles were too thin for my liking when walking even in the cities. Everywhere you go there are cracks and bumps and things to step over. Just take one pair of thicker-soled shoes that you can wear wherever you go. If you are less steady on your feet, make sure they have a good tread on the bottom as many sites have sand and dust on the places where you will step. The grippy soles certainly helped me not slip and fall. I only wore my sandals to dinner on the cruise ship, mainly because I was cool the entire time we were in Egypt. I saw people wearing sandals to places like the Valley of the Kings, and noticed how dirty their feet were. Don’t do it. Save your sandals for the cruise ship. I would have gotten along fine without bringing any sandals at all for our December trip.

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Clothing: We wore plain colored trousers and plain tops the whole time. We visited from Dec. 18-28, and were never hot. In fact, I wore 3 layers every day we were there. Some days when we did some early morning sightseeing, we even wore our down jackets. It was sometimes 45 degrees F in the morning, and then 70 degrees by the afternoon. I was only warm once, and that was early to mid morning when we were at Queen Hatshepsut’s Temple and at the Valley of the Kings and the sun was out. Think twice about bringing white clothes. Egypt is dirty. There is garbage, mud, water, dog poop, and other unidentifiable material on the streets. I saw women tourists wearing white trousers, and they had very dirty bottoms. Also, your white-soled shoes will be dirty! Our guides and drivers didn’t wear any light-colored clothing. Most locals we saw wore darker-colored clothing. There is a good reason for that!

Currency: Put a currency converter on your phone. This was really helpful the first few days we were in the country. After a few days we could roughly convert pounds to dollars in our heads, but we would have been really confused the first few days if we hadn’t had a converter.

Tipping: Be prepared to tip. A lot. Everywhere you go, there is an expectation of backsheesh. Tarek, the owner of Egypt and Beyond Travel, sent us a guide for how much to tip our drivers, guides, etc. It is preferred that you bring USD for those tips. I have absolutely no issue with tipping these people that I have hired to make my trip enjoyable. We were so fortunate to have Marwa as our guide–the guide from Rick’s Egypt episode. Wow! She was amazing!! We ended up bringing some extra USD and tipping our guides and drivers more than recommended because they were that good.
I knew there would be bathroom attendants at some places that would expect a tip. I went into this trip with the mindset that I am helping support the local economy, and that I can absolutely afford to tip the people who provide me with a service. What I wasn’t expecting, however, was to have to tip bathroom attendants at places you pay to enter. For example, even museums and restaurants have attendants that expect a tip. I don’t mind paying someone if they at least keep the toilet paper stocked and the bathroom clean. At Abu Simbel the bathrooms were filthy, but there was still an attendant who expected a tip. This was a little annoying for me. And be sure to bring your own toilet paper in case you visit a bathroom without an attendant. I bought some of those little travel rolls and just carried one in our day bag at all times.

Crossing the Street: This can be a little intimidating. Our first day in Cairo was a free day, which we scheduled this way in case our flight was delayed. Our flights were on time, but we slept until 11 am that first morning, so I’m very glad we didn’t have anything planned! Our hotel was directly across from Tahrir Square. We both looked at the Cairo traffic and kind of thought, uh oh, what have we gotten ourselves into? We started by just walking around our block, not having to cross the street. We watched how the locals did it. First we crossed with the locals, letting them stop traffic. Then as we gained more confidence, we crossed by ourselves. I would say that it is similar to crossing the street in Rome or Naples, but the drivers in Cairo get closer to you than in Italy.

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Food & Mummy Tummy: I am gluten and lactose intolerant, and I was wondering what in the world I was going to eat in Egypt. I brought a lot of snacks, but thanks to our guides and the wonderful staff on the cruise ship, I brought most of my snacks home. They helped me communicate with the chef to know what was safe for me to eat. If you have any questions about eating gluten or dairy free in Egypt, feel free to send me a private message.
We both ended up with mummy tummy. I think I got it from the pomegranate I ate at the hotel breakfast the first morning. I was expecting mummy tummy to be as bad as when I accidentally get “glutened” but it wasn’t. We aren’t sure why my husband got it. Afterward, there were times when our tummies didn’t feel right, but we didn’t get sick again. We both accidentally brushed our teeth with tap water after getting mummy tummy, but neither of us got sick again. Maybe it’s something you get once and then you’re good? Who knows? Bring extra toothbrushes so you can throw yours away when you accidentally run it under the tap.

Egypt is a Developing Country: Coming from a small town in Minnesota, we always experience culture shock when traveling abroad. I have to say, though, that this was the biggest shock we have ever had. As dog lovers, my husband and I had a very hard time seeing all the stray dogs. You will see hundreds if you spend a week or more in Egypt. We just had to tell ourselves that they are happy being free. I felt for the people working so hard and living on so little. I wanted to interact more with the people, especially the children, but you just don’t know if you are going to be hassled for backsheesh if you do. I ended up feeling very grateful to live in the US and very grateful for all that we have.

If you typically like to travel independently, consider hiring a tour company for Egypt. I would also say that I am very glad we had previously spent 6 days in Naples. We didn’t mind the craziness of Naples. If you have visited and didn’t like Naples, you may not want to spend much time in Cairo. Overall, I am very glad we went ahead with the trip. Egypt is totally worth it! If you have any questions please feel free to reply or send me a private message.

ETA: Safety: Except when crossing the street, there was never a time when we felt unsafe in Egypt. It was refreshing to not have to worry about pickpockets. We still kept our money and credit cards secure, but that was so that we didn't lose them--not out of fear of being pickpocketed. One day when we were at a restaurant with our guide in Cairo, we ordered our food and then all got up to use the restroom to wash our hands before eating. Our guide left her purse sitting on the chair at the table. I asked her if she wanted me to grab it and bring it with, and she said no, it will be fine. Sure enough, it was still there with all its contents when we returned!

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5021 posts

I enjoyed reading your trip report. It was very helpful, since we are considering a trip to Egypt ( now postponed til 2023). How long was your Egypt tour? Can you recommend the hotels you stayed at in the various cities? Any of the sites that really stood out for you?

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Hi CJean,

We left the US on Dec. 18th, arrived in Egypt late in the evening on the 19th, and had the 20th as a free day in case our flights were delayed. We toured Cairo/Giza/Saqqara for 3 days on the 21, 22, and 23rd. Then we flew to Abu Simbel on the morning of the 24th and flew to Aswan also on the 24th where we toured the high dam and the Temple of Philae before we joined the cruise. We sailed on the 25th and toured Kom Ombo and the Temple of Horus. On Sunday the 26th we toured the tomb of Hatshepsut and the Valley of the Kings. On Monday the 27th I took the included hot air balloon ride (my husband was too scared) and then we toured Karnak Temple. We flew back to Cairo in the afternoon on the 27th. We had to be at the airport at midnight on the 28th to catch our 3:00 a.m. flight out of Cairo.

I felt that this was just the right amount of time for us in Egypt. Egypt is intense. It was nice to be able to relax on the cruise after being in Cairo for 4 days and having a long day flying to Abu Simbel. I am normally a person who wants to spend at least 2 weeks overseas to make the travel time and cost worth it. But 11 days was enough for us for Egypt.

The hotels were selected by the tour company. We first stayed at the Steigenberger Hotel Tahrir Square in Cairo. This was comparable to any business class hotel you would find in the US. They had a gated entrance with bomb sniffing dog and metal detectors and x-ray machine for the bags. The breakfast was great for my husband, not so many choices for me. The beds were really hard, but all the beds we slept on in Egypt were.

The cruise was also arranged through the tour company. Our boat was Acamar. It was nice but not the most elegant ship we saw. When you dock, you sometimes have to walk through other ships to get off, and we walked through one that was really elegant. Most others were comparable to ours. Again, hard beds. Good food, and the staff went out of their way to make sure I had something to eat.

On the evening of the 27th, we stayed at the LeMeridien hotel at the Cairo airport. This was arranged for us because we had to get up so early for our first flight toward home. Very nice hotel, with very nice staff who were so kind in helping us get our covid antigen test results printed. This took over an hour due to Google's new 2-step verification, which I had turned off in anticipation of not being able to log in to my Google account in Egypt. I never did get logged in to the hotel computer to print our results. So be sure to plan for this when you sign up with emed and Navica if you are using the Binax Now tests. I had to forward the results email to a different account that I could get logged into.

I really liked Abu Simbel. We both thought is was worth the trip and the hassle to get there and back. We also thought it was worth it to go to Saqqara. We went there first before going to Giza, and I would definitely recommend that order. It was interesting to see King Tut's death mask. It was much smaller than I was expecting. We did end up going to the Khan El Khalili market, but I told our guide that I was only interested in purchasing something that was handmade in Egypt. She pointed out a leather shop and a ceramic shop. I ended up purchasing a small, beautifully painted, handmade bowl. We also visited the Coptic area of Cairo. If you have the extra day, this is nice to visit, but if you don't have an extra day, skip it. I can't choose a favorite temple--they were all magnificent! Finally, a hot air balloon ride was included with our tour. My husband was too scared and didn't go. I'm glad I went, but it's not something I need to do again. I was a little nervous when the balloon started spinning, and when we were drifting far away from all the other balloons. The pilot, though, landed us perfectly.

Good luck planning your trip! If you have any other questions, please ask!

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Something else that is helpful to know for visiting Abu Simbel is that if your flight there is delayed, EgyptAir will also delay your departing flight so that you have time to visit. Our flight from Cairo to Aswan was delayed because of the school group (It looked like they were missing someone because they kept counting and recounting the students.) so our flight from Aswan to Abu Simbel was subsequently delayed. When you arrive at Abu Simbel, the airline tells the tour guides what time the next flight will depart. We went and toured Abu Simbel with our guide and didn't think about the delay. We started getting worried when it was 12:45 and we looked at our boarding passes and our flight was supposed to leave at 1:10, but our tour guide said to meet back up with him at 1:00. We guessed they must delay the departing flight, but we weren't sure of that until we asked because he didn't automatically tell us that.

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slbdaisy, it's impossible for me to overstate how very much I appreciate your two lengthy, insightful, and incredibly helpful posts about your recent trip to Egypt. I will be traveling to Egypt with two friends, with a similar itinerary to yours, and leave in January. You offer insights that I have not read elsewhere, like being aware that indoor smoking is allowed, and what shoes and color of clothes to bring! We, too, will be met by a tour representative when we arrive at Cairo airport and am glad to hear that this helps move us through the airport. (We will be shepherded throughout Egypt by folks with Djed Egypt Tours.) I admire how you handled the situation on the plane between Aswan and Cairo! I'm not sure I'd have the chutzpah to be as strong as you were, but you inspire me to say something if necessary! Again, thank you for the thoughtfulness and care that you put into your posts! Your advice will certainly be put to use by me and my two friends very soon!

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jmauldinuu, Thank you for your kind reply! My sincere hope is that my post helps many people who will be traveling or are considering traveling to Egypt. I tried to post the things that I noticed while in Egypt that I hadn't read before and I wished I had known before going. Have a wonderful trip!

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One other tip regarding brushing your teeth: After you wet your toothbrush with bottled water, keep holding the bottle of water in your other hand while you brush your teeth. This way when you are done, instead of turning on the tap, you notice that you have a bottle of water in your hand, and you remember to use that instead of tap water.

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slbdaisy, could I gently ask how you all treated your tummy ailments? I plan on bringing PeptoBismal tablets with me, and chewing a couple before every meal. (I learned to do that years ago when scuba diving in Mexico.) I also will have a full dose of Zithromax with me for something really bad; plus some Emergen-C packets and Imodium, of course. Is there anything else that you would recommend that we bring with us in case we ... eat pomegranate at breakfast?

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jmauldinuu, LOL! We took saccharomyces boulardii before and during our trip but that obviously didn't keep us from getting sick. Neither one of us wanted to take Pepto every time before we ate, especially me due to my health conditions (I am allergic to a lot of ingredients) because I have never taken it before and I wasn't sure how I would react.

I just took immodium once after I got sick, as did my husband. It seemed like after you got rid of the offending meal/food, you were fine. The other times we felt queasy, we felt better after we ate. Both of us commented at various times that we didn't feel very good, but we each said we felt better after eating the next meal. We thought that was weird. We never did get sick again, although I took two immodium before the hot-air balloon flight just in case!

Trying not to get too graphic here, but when I accidentally unknowingly ingest gluten, the next morning about an hour after waking up, I have to immediately be near a restroom. I have about 60 seconds of warning ahead of time, and I spend about 5 hours in and out of the restroom getting rid of the gluten. I was thinking that mummy tummy was going to be like that. I was VERY afraid of getting it and needing a restroom immediately like I do with gluten intolerance. It wasn't that bad. You could tell it was coming. There was about 30 minutes warning for each of us, so there would have been time to find a restroom in the case that we were visiting a site somewhere. It also took only a couple of trips to the restroom for me, and only one for my husband.

Sorry if that was too much information for anyone! : )

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Thanks for a great trip report. You inspired me to write up a report for my trip in October of this year. (My report from March 2020 is here: https://community.ricksteves.com/travel-forum/beyond-europe/experience-in-egypt )

I agree about shoes. I took a pair of Asics running shoes and a pair of Allbirds. The Allbirds were great for evenings and light city strolls, but I was happier with sturdier shoes when wandering around ancient monuments. I did get a lot of sand in my shoes at Saqqara, most likely en route to the the Serapeum. When I got back to the hotel, I flopped onto the bed and casually removed one of my shoes. What must have been at least a half a cup of sand spilled onto the bedspread. Oops. We had to borrow a vacuum cleaner from housekeeping to get rid of it. I was more careful when I removed the second shoe, which was equally full of sand.

You are spot on about the QR codes. They totally wanted to see a QR code for a vaccination of PCR result, but nobody actually scanned the code.

I didn't encounter any problems with masking. Everyone was masked on planes and indoors. Not so much outdoors, which was fine. Our guides and drivers, as well as hotel employees, were all vaccinated. Of course, I was there in October, before Omicron reared its ugly head, and so I was a bit more relaxed then than I would be now.

Fortunately, I had no problems whatsoever with mummy tummy on either trip, and I was pretty adventurous with my eating. I took Pepto Bismol and Immodium with me, but never had to use them. I imagine, though, that Egypt could pretty challenging for folks with gluten issues.

I totally agree about Cairo. It can be overwhelming. I loved the chaos of Naples, but Cairo takes chaos to a totally new level.

Egypt is definitely a tipping society. I budgeted for it and just dealt with it for the most part. The only time it bothered me was at the Cairo Museum. They required me to check my camera. When I exited the museum and tried to claim the camera, the guy behind the counter held my camera in one hand behind him as as he extended the other hand to ask for baksheesh. I complained to our guide, who said that what the attendant did was illegal. Our guide offered to make a complaint to the tourist police, but I declined.

I agree that Abu Simbel is amazing. I traveled with Djed Egypt, and we spent the night at an absolutely charming lodge in Abu Simbel. I really enjoyed spending the night at Abu Simbel.

I loved the balloon ride in Luxor on the 2020 trip. I skipped it in 2021, only because of time considerations.

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Hello,

I am so happy to find these posts. Like many of you I have watched the Rick Steves Egypt shows, and we booked a trip starting in 2 weeks. We start in Cairo. Our tour company called us last week and said Egypt Air had cancelled the flight from JKF to Cairo on the date we were leaving (3/23/22) but had one on the earlier day (3/22/22) and could we switch. They will pay for the extra night in the hotel.

Now we will arrive a day early but the tour still starts on 3/24/22. We will do the pyramids etc with the group tour. Does anyone have a suggestion for a tour and/or something to do that first day so we can stay awake? There are 10 of us in our little group, and maybe not all would join.

I have looked at food tours, cocktail tour (not happening), the pyramid light show and a cave and Garbage City tour. I am nervous about the food tour. Nervous about the food in general.

Cathy

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Also, are water bottles easily available? Do the hotels/cruise provide (sell) them?

Cathy

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Cathy, I would suggest you ask your tour company about bottled water availability. From our experience, bottled water was provided to us in the hotels and on the tour bus but I cannot guarantee that will be the case with your tour company. We only ate at good restaurants on our tour (Ritz Carlton, Mena House Hotel, the Old Cataract Hotel, Winter Palace and the cruise ship). We did not eat street food. Be careful where you dine. Follow the boil it, peel it or don’t eat it rule. The food was delicious in Egypt and Jordan. I would also suggest using bottled water to brush your teeth. We did not get mummy tummy either in Egypt or Jordan. Also, please be sure to wear a good quality mask (N95 or similar) as covid is still an issue there. Don’t let your guard down.

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Cathy,

Bottled water is readily available. Every time we got in our van, the tour company had water for us. There will be some complimentary in your hotel room and on your cruise ship (if you are doing a cruise). Then, after you have used the complimentary bottles, you have to pay for more if you use more. Instead of overpaying the hotel, we just went to one of the shops on the corner and bought big bottles from a local--sealed, of course.

I am lactose intolerant, gluten intolerant, and histamine intolerant, which means there are a LOT of foods I can't eat. With the help of our guide, I found plenty to eat. Even my husband, who is a picky eater, (which really bothers me because he can eat anything he wants, but he doesn't because he, "might not like it.") found plenty to eat. Let's just say that I had planned to lose some weight on our trip, as I usually do when traveling, but I came home the same size as before!

I would be hesitant to schedule anything in the morning the day after you arrive. It is a long trip to Egypt--longer than to Europe. We arrived at about 6 p.m. local time, took showers, had a snack, and then went to bed by 9 because we were so tired. We both slept until 10:50 the next morning! We threw on some clothes and just made it through the breakfast line, which closed at 11:00 a.m. I'm so glad we didn't have anything officially scheduled on that day, because we really needed the sleep! And, I should add, we still went to bed and fell asleep by 10 p.m. that night too!

Have a wonderful trip!

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Thanks for the info guys, we will be diligent about the water. That was a good tip to buy (sealed) water locally to refill.

Cathy

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2452 posts

I agree with slbdaisy as to the first day in Egypt. We arrived at the hotel and fell into bed, missed breakfast and barely made it to lunch. We were exhausted. It is a long flight. I wouldn’t make plans for that first day.

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We did a 11 day trip to Egypt with tours and local transportation by Go Luxor Tours, found on this forum. Had a terrific trip. I had already booked our International flights, Go Luxor did our domestic flights. I self booked our hotels with their feedback as I got some deals/points/etc. Super smooth, super happy to have our own guide and minivan to go to the sights without the crowds, on our timetable and with our interests in mind. Thanks to those who recommended and for all your suggestions.

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So glad to hear that you enjoyed your trip with Go Luxor. A trip report would be great! Did you have Francis and Michael?